Pat Riley challenges LeBron James, sticks up for Micky Arison

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Pat Riley said he requires a week after a tough season-ending loss before he can speak coherently.

Four days after his Miami Heat lost in the NBA Finals, Riley addressed the media.

“Good morning, everybody,” Riley said. “You want to trend something? I’m pissed. OK? Get it out there.”

Pissed at LeBron James? If you want spin Riley’s comments that way, you easily could – though shouldn’t.

I don’t believe it’s coincidence reports have emerged in the last couple days LeBron wants the Heat to spend more. With an early-termination option giving him leverage, he’s challenging owner Micky Arison and Riley.

And Riley is firing right back.

“This stuff is hard,” Riley said. “And you’ve got to stay together if you got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.

“We’ll find out what we’re made of here. It’s not about options. It’s not about free agency.

“There’s just looking around the room now and finding out who;’s going to stand up. This is time that you go home and take care of yourself and look at yourself and what are you going to do to come back and make the team better? Because we have a tremendous opportunity here for long-term success. But don’t think we’re not going to get beat again. So, just get a grip, everybody. That’s my message. That’s my message to the players.

“They’re hearing it right now. I’m sure they’ll hear it. We’ll make sure of it.

“You deal with it by doing what you have to do to make yourself better by taking accountability for yourself and your own actions and not laying it off on something else or somebody else.”

[RELATED: Clippers, Rockets to pursue LeBron if he becomes a free agent?]

Riley stuck up for Arison specifically, noting the owner’s commitment for keeping LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

“He will do anything to get those guys to come back,” Riley said “There’s been a perception out there that I think has been construed in some way about him not wanting to pay the tax. That’s BS. He’s been paying the tax for three years.”

That last line is true. However, the issue is how much luxury tax Arison is willing to endure.

Though Riley characterized amnestying Mike Miller and trading a draft pick to dump Joel Anthony as moves to better position the Heat for next season – which is fair, because both players were under contract for 2014-15 – they also cut costs. And the timings of the moves leave little doubt that money was a factor.

The Heat could have used Miller on the court this season and then amnestied him this offseason while receiving the same future flexibility. They also could have waited to deal Anthony until this summer, when his contract would have held less remaining money, therefore requiring less of a sweetener to move, and again received the the same future flexibility.

Instead, Miami made both transactions earlier than necessary to reduce 2014-15 payroll. But the earlier, the more savings this season.

So, maybe Riley’s emotions were directed at LeBron. After all, Riley made clear he was addressing the players.

[RELATED: Could LeBron, Carmelo end up together?]

But he also respectfully stuck up for LeBron’s right to exercise his contractually negotiated options. He said he wants to talk more with LeBron, Wade and Bosh and values their input. He emphasized their responsibility is to take best situation financially for themselves and families.

When LeBron left Cleveland, Dan Gilbert’s notorious letter showed a disgusting sense of entitlement. There was none of that from Riley.

“I love LeBron,” Riley said.

I don’t think Riley was challenging LeBron to overcome the Heat’s spending habits. I think he was challenging LeBron – and everyone else – to overcome a crushing Finals defeat.

Riley spent a lot of time on how often Duncan’s Spurs, Shaq’s and Kobe’s Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls, Larry’s Celtics and Magic’s and Kareem’s Lakers lost. It seems Riley can tolerate losing. He just can’t tolerate succumbing to it.

If anyone knows how to motivate and coax superstars, it’s Riley, who described his approach as “you don’t pander and you don’t punish.”

[RELATED: DeSean Jackson continues to troll LeBron James on Instagram]

In 2010, Riley famously flashed his championship rings to impress the big three. The players carried most agency in the super team’s creation, but Riley played a huge part – and he’ll again play a part in keeping it together.

“I don’t think we have to recruit Chris and LeBron and Dwyane again,” Riley said. “Four trips to the Finals and a great organization and two world championships – I’m not dropping championship rings on the table for those guys. They can drop their own.”

And if that’s not enough?

“Whatever it takes to keep them together, we’re ready for it,” Riley said.

At some point, Riley, LeBron and Arison must get on the same page about spending. As far as a will to win, Riley isn’t negotiating.

He’s demanding it.

Could that push LeBron from Miami? I guess it’s possible, but I’m betting Riley knows it won’t.

Celtics hope return home can slow LeBron, Cavs in Game 5

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BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics expected to see a different LeBron James in Cleveland after the Cavaliers fell into a 2-0 hole to open the Eastern Conference finals

Two games and back-to-back wins later, James has reminded everyone exactly why he’s been to seven straight NBA finals.

Boston will be back in the embrace of its raucous fans at TD Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday. But a team that has thrived on youth this postseason suddenly looks disoriented without a go-to player and opposite a more veteran squad that has found a new attitude thanks to the fuel being provided by its biggest star.

“My teammates are putting me in position and wanting me to be in attack mode and trusting me to put our guys in position to be successful,” James said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the collective group, and I’m one of the byproducts of that.”

While the Cavs are certainly feeling rejuvenated, coach Tyronn Lue said it hasn’t changed their sense of urgency.

“We still gotta play,” Lue said. “We have veteran guys who have been there and know what it takes, but this is a young team, a good team that’s playing at home so experience is not going to be a factor. We have to come in there and have the same mentality that we had in Game 3 and 4.”

Two games ago, the numbers seemed all on the Celtics’ side.

They had moved to 9-0 at home during these playoffs and taken 2-0 series lead, which has been a magic number for a franchise yet to surrender such an advantage during its storied history (37-0). Over the last 96 minutes, Boston has been outscored by 39 points, has dropped to 1-6 on the road and is suddenly facing a must-win game to maintain home-court advantage.

Coach Brad Stevens said at the start of the playoffs that he believed there was value in the greenness of a young group that had several players getting their first taste of postseason basketball. He was proven right with Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum all thriving as first-time postseason starters.

Their success had the cumulative effect of masking the absences of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Now, the lack of an alpha like Irving capable of creating his own shot is sticking out with every 40-point game James produces.

Al Horford, Boston’s only healthy All-Star, was never a dominant scorer, but more of a facilitator who worked well in a finely tuned system.

Horford started off the series strong but his scoring and assist numbers have declined over the last two games.

Lue’s move to reinsert Tristan Thompson back into the starting lineup in Game 2 is a huge reason.

Thompson has not only helped things move better on the offensive end for Cleveland, he’s combined with Larry Nance to make things difficult on Horford. Horford had just four shots and seven points in 30 minutes in Game 3. He scored 15 points in Game 4 but was just 5-of-13 from the field with one assist.

If the Celtics are going to get back to the by-committee style that got them here, it must begin with his leadership. To that end, Horford said they’ll focus on correcting their issues, but also won’t dwell on them.

“As a group, we’re excited to be back, going back home,” he said. “Obviously we understand the challenge of it. We can’t think about the past. We just have to worry about this opportunity. We have a Game 5 at home, and we have to make the most of it.”

Cleveland is hoping James’ once quiet supporting cast continues its surge in Boston.

Kevin Love just missed his third straight double-double in Game 4 and sharpshooters JR Smith and Kyle Korver were 12 of 19 from the 3-point line in Games 3 and 4.

Korver’s efforts have stood out.

At 37 years old he was all over the court scoring in Game 4, diving for loose balls and collecting three blocks. While he anticipated being sore from all the activity, Korver said playing “fun basketball” is still propelling a guy looking for his first ring after appearing in 124 playoff games for five different teams during his 15-year career.

“There’s not many of us `03 class guys still around,” James said of Korver. “I feel like we’re just cut from a different cloth because we’ve been around for so long. We have this work ethic and you see him every day putting in the work, putting his mind, his body into it. It’s not about his age.”

 

Report: Timberwolves would dump Thibodeau before trading Karl-Anthony Towns

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In the NBA, when it comes down to a struggle between an elite player and the coach/GM, who wins? The player. A top 10 NBA player is much harder to get than a coach. If you don’t believe it’s the player go ask David Fizdale or Kevin McHale or Paul Westhead or.. I could fill up the entire NBC server with instances, you get the point.

As the tension between Karl-Anthony Towns and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau has bubbled to the surface in Minnesota, some teams have called up Thibodeau and the Timberwolves to check on KAT’s availability in a trade.

But would the Timberwolves really trade Towns? If one side is going to lose this battle, it’s Thibodeau, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on The Russillo Show (hat tip Uproxx).

“I think their owner would trade management/the coach before he would trade Karl-Anthony Towns. I don’t think they would allow that. I just don’t believe they’d allow that kind of decision. And I don’t know that they’d want to trade him… he’s Karl-Anthony Towns, they’re not moving him, Towns is eligible for his extension this summer. You know Jimmy Butler… it’s more of a question of Andrew Wiggins. That to me would be, if someone was going to get moved — and I’m not saying anyone’s going to get moved — I think Andrew Wiggins is the one you’re going to look at first. Because you don’t have to make a decision on Towns and Jimmy Butler and one of those guys having to take less on an extension, because you can’t have three [max] guys.”

To be clear, Thibodeau isn’t going anywhere this summer (unless he makes some kind of a power play move, like trying to trade Towns). The Timberwolves improved by 16 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 — that was a step forward. Maybe not as big of one as some wanted/expected, but it wasn’t the kind of season that gets a coach/GM fired.

There’s also an odd dynamic in this with Jimmy Butler — he is Thibodeau’s guy. Butler has his back, and he can be a free agent in a couple of years, so if Minnesota wants to keep him then keeping the coach matters.

As for trading Wiggins, that is something to keep an eye on. Even if it’s not likely. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, there has been buzz around the league about the Timberwolves testing the market for Wiggins. The problem is Wiggins’ five-year, $148 million fully guaranteed contract kicks in next season — few teams want to take that on. To move Wiggins, Minnesota will have to take back bad contracts and/or send out sweeteners with him. Demand will not be high, despite Wiggins’ potential.

As Wojnarowski noted, both Butler and Towns have new contract coming up in the next couple of seasons, and both are clear max players. It puts Minnesota in a tight spot with the cap. They will be looking for some relief.

Just remember, if it comes down to Thibodeau or Towns, the player always wins. Especially a young, on-the-rise player.

Boston vs. Houston Finals? In 2-2 series, team with home court wins 80% of time

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Game 1 of the NBA Finals will see the Boston Celtics at the Houston Rockets starting May 31.

Or, at least that’s what the historic odds favor.

Most fans (and media/analysts) expect the Finals will still be Cleveland vs. Golden State, those are the two proven teams. However, as our own Dan Feldman noted, historically in a 2-2 series the team with two home games wins four out of five times.

Tuesday night, Houston looked every bit the kind of team that can stand up to the defending champion Warriors. Down 10 entering the fourth quarter, Houston’s improved ball-pressure defense wore down a Golden State team and took Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson (and in the fourth Stephen Curry) out of their rhythm. The Warriors couldn’t get the shots they wanted, didn’t get to the rim, went 0-of-6 from three and 3-of-18 overall in the fourth quarter. They looked like they were replaying the final games of the 2016 NBA Finals again (just with Durant). Meanwhile, Chris Paul was efficient and James Harden made plays that got Houston the comeback win. It was the kind of victory that can define a championship run.

Still, they need two more wins against a Warriors team that is loaded with All-Stars and has been to three straight Finals for a reason. Golden State believes it has another gear, now it needs to find it.

Out East, Boston heads home for Wednesday night’s game — the Celtics are 9-0 in the postseason and 22.4 points per 100 possessions better than on the road. Boston’s young role players have just been vastly superior on the parquet on both ends of the court. Plus, while the Cavaliers won Game 4, the Celtics won the last three quarters and seemed to find some defensive setups and plays that work for them.

Cleveland, however, has LeBron James.

Finally, we’ve got the kind of playoff drama we have wanted out of these conference finals.

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.